“If you plan for solar power from day one, you can construct an active solar cell surface without much additional cost,” she points out.
From solar-powered data centres to glass exteriors that produce electricity: this is how green commercial buildings in Norway are now being built to integrate solar power.
How do you build a house that produces more energy than it consumes? One answer is to cover the entire building with solar cells – like Solcellespesialisten did for Powerhouse Brattørkaia. In 2020, Powerhouse Brattørkaia won the outstanding project award at the international Intersolar Smarter E Awards.
“Almost the entire building, both roofs and walls, produces energy,” explains Carl Christian Strømberg, CEO of Solcellespesialisten.
That is largely due to the smart use of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) – that is, solar cells that are not attached to the exterior of a building like traditional panels, but instead form part of the building material itself. BIPV can be challenging to implement, something Solcellespesialisten experienced during the Powerhouse projects.
“The whole building had a sky-high level of ambition. For instance, the architects did not want the solar cells to have frames or to be attached with screws. Since each section weighs almost a hundred kilos, we had to be innovative in our use of adhesives. No one had done this exact thing before with solar cells,” says Strømberg.
Solcellespesialisten is one of the fastest growing solar players in Norway: with revenues increasing from around USD 200 000 in 2014 to over USD 38 million in 2022. The company is now establishing a factory in Elverum in Eastern Norway where it will produce its own building-integrated photovoltaics.
“So far, we have based our production on international subcontractors. But that makes the waiting times longer and we don’t always get the quality we need,” Strømberg explains.
He believes that building-integrated photovoltaics will eventually become the norm for new buildings.
“We have reached a point where BIPV represents only a minor increase in cost. compared to certain exclusive glass exteriors, it’s even reached price parity. That means it is becoming a profitable investment, as well as an environmentally sound one,” he says.
“Norway is playing a leading role in building-integrated photovoltaics in Europe, thanks in good part to a domestic construction industry which is willing and able to try new solutions.”
“The private sector is beginning to realise that solar power offers a competitive advantage and sustainability credentials, on top of the savings in electricity. We see that both our customers and their end consumers are demanding solar power,” says Per Urdahl, CEO of Energima Solel, a Norwegian provider of holistic solar power solutions.
Energima Solel is part of the Energima group, which has so far installed solar at more than 130 office buildings, schools, warehouses, shops and more.
The company’s latest achievement is completing Norway’s first solar installation on a “blue roof” – that is, a roof designed for gathering and gradually draining rainwater. The roof prevents overload on drainage and plumbing systems. It becomes, in practice, a temporary water reservoir when it rains.
“This was a whole new challenge. It is not easy to install solar cells that function safely above a water reservoir on a roof while being resistant to wind and bad weather. The installation was a milestone for us as a company, and these solutions will likely become attractive in other cities and countries going forward,” says Urdahl.
Energima Solel has also delivered Norway’s first solar installation for a data centre.
“We’re very pleased with our data centre project. Many data centres say they are green because they buy wind or hydropower capacity, but here the power supply is local and even situated on the roof,” he says.
Since it was established in 2012, the company has equipped Norwegian offices, warehouses, shopping centres and even football stadiums with solar power. FUSen also offers solutions for smart control, helping customers to get the most out of the electricity they produce.
The company’s latest groundbreaking installation is the exterior of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate in Stavanger in Western Norway. Here, solar cells are integrated into the building’s glass facade.
“To put it mildly, we’re fairly proud of this. I would say that we’ve created something that is both beautiful and environmentally sound. The architect was able to design the building without special adaptations for solar cells, since we created a glass exterior filled with solar cells,” says Tuv.
He thinks that installing building-integrated photovoltaics is growing more attractive by the day.
“The solar industry has come so far that architects no longer have to limit their designs to incorporate solar panels. The added costs of building-integration are much lower than many people think. Many companies are also realising that solar is a sound and visible environmental initiative, which also boosts their brand,” says Tuv.
So far, FUSen has primarily focused on Norway, but the company is actively looking for opportunities abroad. Tuv believes that Norwegian solar companies have certain competitive advantages, especially when it comes to BIPV.
“In Norway, many construction projects have been willing to allocate significant resources to new solar technology. Norwegian solar companies have thus gained a lot of valuable experience. Many companies are way ahead on advanced solutions, many of which are ready for the international market,” he explains.
At the Norwegian Solar Energy Cluster, Berentsen thinks Norway’s recent innovative projects are important in making commercial buildings greener.
“These buildings have an incredibly important signalling effect – they show that advanced solar projects can also be aesthetically pleasing. The fact that some companies are pioneers is essential for driving the solar market forward,” she says.
Berentsen believes that Norwegian companies are well equipped to construct green commercial buildings outside Norway too.
“Norway has relatively large advantages when it comes to solar for commercial buildings: we have a great deal of construction expertise including with wood and energy systems. Our companies have also shown that they are very good at combining technologies and making them work. All of this is good news for exports,” she concludes.